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2011 Kinston Indians Preview: The Final Year

2011 Kinston Indians Preview: The Final Year
April 8, 2011
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(Photo: Kinston Indians)
The 2011 season will be the last that the K-Tribe calls Historic Grainger Stadium and Kinston home. In 2012, the Advanced A Indians will be moving 60 miles northwest to one of the most unique stadiums in all of the minor leagues, just outside Raleigh. While there will be a lot of press throughout the year on the Indians move to Five County Stadium, the 2011 Kinston Indians will be doing everything they can to make their last season in their old digs one to remember.

The 2011 team will be looking to improve upon a solid 2010 season that saw the K-Tribe win the second half crown, and put the K-Tribe in the playoffs. The 2010 team was loaded with some of the top talent in the Indians system to start the year off. The irony was that the team didn't really catch fire until players like Alex White, Bryce Stowell, Kelvin De La Cruz and Jason Kipnis headed north to Akron. Once the roster shuffling was completed, and Kinston was infused with more talent from Lake County, they were able to make their run. While the Indians lost in the first round of the playoffs last year, a bunch of returning players will look to improve upon that this year, and give the city of Kinston a big goodbye.

The 2011 club will be starting the season off with arguably the best pitcher in the organization in 2010 first round draft choice, Drew Pomeranz. While the big lefty likely won't be in Kinston long, he should help get the team off on the right foot. With Pomeranz garnering all the attention, the T.J.'s will quietly be making their return to provide the backbone to the rotation. T.J. McFarland was one of the best pitchers in the Carolina League last season, while T.J. House began showcasing the talent that have many believing that he's a future big league, top-end starter.

Offensively, the K-Tribe should improve in several areas over last seasons sometimes offensively challenged club. The infield has a lot of intriguing prospects that should add some needed pop to the lineup. Lake County will deliver SS Casey Frawley, 3B Adam Abraham and 1B Chase Burnette. Frawley and Abraham produced double-digit homers, while Burnette was knocking on that door after playing most of the year at short-season Mahoning Valley. Jeremie Tice also returns, carrying a big stick.

The outfield brings back talented holdovers Bo Greenwell and Abner Abreu. Joining the two veteran bookends in centerfield will be a relative newcomer in Tyler Holt. The tenth round, 2010 draft pick out of Florida State is one of the scrapiest players in the organization. The kid is fast, and can flat out play. He's going to be a major leaguer at some point, and should be a showstopper in Kinston.

This is a team that has a nice infusion of talent from Lake County, to go along with some solid, returning vets. With the potential of guys like Jason Knapp and LeVon Washington making appearances at some point in 2012, it could be a big finale for Kinston.

Minor League Affiliates

Columbus Clippers (AAA)
Akron Aeros (AA)
Kinston Indians (High A)
Lake County Captains (Low A)
Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Short Season A)
Arizona Indians (Rookie)

Coaching Staff

Manager: Aaron Holbert
2nd season as Kinston manager, 4th season in Indians organization

Hitting Coach: Phil Clark
1st season as Kinston hitting coach, 5th season in Indians organization

Pitching Coach: Mickey Callaway
1st season as Kinston pitching coach, 2nd season in Indians organization

Starting Rotation

Drew Pomeranz (LHP), T.J. McFarland (LHP), T.J. House (LHP), Giovanni Soto (LHP), Clayton Cook (RHP)

Drew Pomeranz makes his organizational debut in Kinston this season, and will likely have his sights on climbing the ladder quickly. Pomeranz has the makings of becoming a rotation horse in years to come. At 6'5" and 230 pounds, the big lefty has the type of make-up that will allow him to eat up innings. What's most impressive about Pomeranz is his incredibly smooth delivery. It absolutely lulls hitters to sleep, and the deception makes his explosive fastball that much harder to hit. His fastball comfortably hits 91-94, and tops out at 95. While Pomeranz may look smooth on the hill, he's got a cutthroat mentality, going after hitters with that overpowering fastball. While his fastball is certainly a plus-pitch, you could really make a case that his best pitch is that wicked curveball. The pitch is a true 12-6, and is definitely as big an out pitch as his fastball. He is a changeup away from being major league ready...THIS YEAR. When you have a starter with this much stuff and that rare mentality to go after hitters, and put it together with his incredible makeup, you really have something special. Pomeranz won't last long in Kinston, but we'll take him as long as we can get him.

I have to imagine that T.J. McFarland has more than a little chip on his shoulder. While the big lefty struggled mightily at the end of last season, for the bulk of the year a case could be made that he was the best pitcher in the entire Carolina league. For the first half of the year, he had one of the top ERAs in the entire minor league system, and really made a name for himself in the organization. McFarland isn't an overpowering pitcher, and fits the typical mold of many lefties in the organization prior to 2010. McFarland's fastball ranges in the low 90's, and tops out at 94-95, although it's rare that he rears back and gets it there. When he's on, he's pounding the lower half of the plate, and forcing groundballs. McFarland has three solid pitches in his fastball, slider and sinker. His out pitch is that sinker, which is one of the best in the organization. He's also been tinkering with a changeup. Five years ago, McFarland likely would have found himself starting the season off in Akron, or even Columbus, but this year, the hard luck lefty is stuck in Kinston, waiting for a chance to move up. If he follows up 2010 with a similar season in 2011, he won't have to wait long.

T.J. House enters his third season in the Cleveland organization in the same place that he started and finished his 2010 season. House lost 10 games last year, but managed to keep his ERA under 4.00 in his 26 starts for Kinston. This kid had moments last season where he was dominant, and at 20, he's extremely advanced. House has three plus pitches, beginning with a low 90's fastball that tops out at 95 MPH. His best pitch remains a wicked, mid-80's slider with late-break. He continues to develop a change-up in the low 80's, that he uses with growing confidence. What makes House special is his ability to mix up his pitches. He has command, isn't afraid to throw strikes, and has a high maturity level and work ethic that make him extremely coachable. If he continues to improve his location, I believe he could end up a top-of-the-rotation starter. He has that type of make-up.

Giovanni Soto came to the Indians when they traded Jhonny Peralta to the Tigers. At 6'3" and 160 pounds, Soto has to grab on to anything anchored down when a light breeze crosses his path. The lanky lefty has yet to turn 20, but pitches far beyond his years. He lacks power (tops out in the low 90's) in his pitching, but compensates with a deceptive delivery, and great command of his pitches. He throws a fastball that moves, a curveball and a changeup, but he doesn't really have an outpitch as of yet. The Indians are high on the kids because they feel that if he bulks up and adds 3-4 MPH on his pitches, he could go from a marginal prospect to something quite special.

Like Soto, Cook is another young prospect who may yet turn into a top-of-the-line starter should the cards play right. He throws a nice fastball in the low nineties, with good movement. His curveball isn't Pomeranz stuff, but it's still got the potential to be a plus pitch. He also dallies with a changeup, which he'll need to start using as he moves up through the organization. Cook does struggle a bit with consistency, but continues to work on replicating his delivery. If he continues his workout progression and delivery, he could move up fast if an opportunity arises. He's had a fantastic three season with the Indians, and should he put another one together in Kinston, and he could officially get himself off the sleeper list.

Jason Knapp will also get a look in the rotation at some point during the summer. The Indians are being extremely cautious with him, but he'll be in the rotation sometime before the summer starts.


Preston Guilmet (RHP-Closer), Jose Flores (RHP), Travis Turek (RHP), Joey Mahalic (RHP), Tyler Sturdevant (RHP), Marty Popham (RHP), Chris Jones (LHP), Brett Brach (RHP)

Preston Guilmet enters the season as the Kinston closer after a tremendous year in Lake County. After Guilmet was drafted in the ninth round in 2009, he pitched 52 innings, striking out 79, while walking only 10. As far as closer go, Guilmet does it with smoke and mirrors. He rarely, if ever, throws over 90MPH, but his movement and makeup are the difference-makers. Guilmet is certainly a bit too old for this level, but he should be able to get the job done at this level.

Jose Flores was taken in the Rule V draft by the Seattle Mariners. He was returned to the Indians at the end of March after he didn't make the Seattle Mariners roster. While he's not ready for the major leagues, he certainly is an intriguing prospect. At Lake County last year, he pitched 42 innings, while striking out 51 and walking only 9. He had a sterling 2.14 ERA. While he has a plus fastball, his deliver can be all over the place at times. These high effort, Paul Shuey like deliveries always worry me. Combine that with the fact that he doesn't have a whole lot past his fastball, and it could be a long road to the majors. Still, he's good, and can only get better.

Travis Turek is certainly a pitcher to watch, even though he road a roller coaster over much of the season. He had moments of brilliance, followed by getting shellacked many times. I'm not sure that Turek fits into the Indians long-term plans, but he's the kind of pitcher that can eat up some innings. That's never a bad thing in a bullpen.

Mahalic had a solid campaign in 2008 with Lake County, and really seemed to be a mover in the organization as a starter. He started 2009 on fire, and after six outings, had a 1.91 ERA and hitters were batting a paltry .208 against him. He moved up to Kinston in May, and then felt a sting in his forearm. His velocity dropped, and an MRI revealed a sprained ligament in his forearm. It ended his season. In 2010, he regained some form, playing an all-purpose roll as a starter and a reliever. He brings a fastball with sink, a slider and a changeup to the table, and all could be plus pitches.

Sturdevant was awesome last year, pitching 65 innings, but striking out 91, while walking only 19. He's got incredible control, and really has the makings of a nice reliever. He can top out his magnificent fastball at 95, He's old for Kinston, at 25 years old, but still has a whole lot of promise.

Marty Popham started the year in a piggy-back situation with Austin Adams in Lake County before coming to Kinston. He throws in the low to mid 90's. His season culminated late with a combined no-hitter. He remains a fringe prospect, but on occasion shows off special ability. If he can find that consistency, he could have a special year.

Chris Jones is a nice reliever, with a nice fastball and a better curveball. He was outstanding in 2010 for Kinston, pitching in 31 games, and nearly 68 innings with a solid 2.39 ERA. It's going to be hard for Jones to move up with so many other relievers ahead of him, but if he puts another season together like this one, they'll make room.

Brett Brach rounds out the bullpen, but will likely move back to the rotation as soon as a slot arrives. Brach is an interesting pitcher, who now has two solid seasons in his back pocket. He hammers the bottom of the zone with a 91-93 MPH fastball with downward movement. He also throws a slider, changeup and curveball. None are really plus pitches, but he still has a lot of upside.


Roberto Perez (C), Doug Pickens (C)

Roberto Perez is a pitchers' catcher, and I have no doubt that he'll be in the majors someday. No, he's never going to be Victor Martinez with the bat, but he is there for defensive purposes, and he can close out a game. He really can make pitchers better than they are throwing, and while he doesn't hit much, he may have more value behind the plate than many people give him credit for. Pickens isn't going to be knocking the door down on a major league roster any time soon. Call him the Crash Davis of the Indians organization. He can hit at times, but he isn't a prospect of note.


Chase Burnette (1B), Ron Rivas (2B), Casey Frawley (SS), Adam Abraham (3B), Justin Toole (UTIL)

Chase Burnette was selected in the 18th round of the 2010 draft, and comes with some offensive prowess. He managed to hit nine homers in 72 games, and has to potential to improve that number now that he's been permanently been moved to first base. He still strikes out a little too much, but he's got a decent IQ, and after one year in the system, it will be interesting to see if he settles down a bit. It's not inconceivable that he hits 20+ homers this year.

Ron Rivas 6'2" shortstop does present potential power down the line, but he needs a lot more seasoning. He moves well, but was an error machine last season, making 34 errors playing a combination of SS, 2B and 3B. Rivas played the majority of the time at short, and I often wondered last year if they were moving him to third or second, praying that something would click defensively. This year, Rivas will move to second base permanently, and I have to imagine that this will help. Rivas does have the ability to hit the ball, but he'll have to hit better than his lifetime .250 average for the Indians to move him up any further than Advanced A. Rivas is 23 years old, and he's been handed second base, so this could be his last chance.

Casey Frawley showed off some offensive power, with 13 homers and 74 RBI last year for Lake County. He's a solid defender to go along with the newfound power. Should this continue, Frawley could move up quick as a middle infielder. What makes the organization likely take notice is his ability to play nearly every position on the field. He played right and left field last year, to go along with all the infield positions except first base. If he continues hitting the ball out, he really could develop as an uber-utility guy.

Adam Abraham also comes to Kinston after growing power numbers at Lake County. Abraham had 13 home runs last season, with 61 RBI while playing first and third base. Like last season, he'll be playing mostly at third base in his move to Kinston, which is his original position. He's a bit slow of foot, but he does have a big arm, which is what has kept him at third base. He's another guy that had a bit of a power surge last year. At a corner position, he needs to continue to drive in runs. He's not overly aggressive at the plate, and if he can continue to hit the ball with power and keep the K's down, he has the potential to be a factor as a prospect. As a 24-year old, it's imperative that he makes a move this year in the organization.

Justin Toole is a solid utility player. He isn't much offensively, but he can play every position on the field. I'm not sure what the long term plans are for Toole, but at 24, he may be a minor league lifer.

Overall, this infield doesn't have that one rock of gibralter- type player...but there is a lot of upside at each slot.


Bo Greenwell (LF), Tyler Holt (CF), Abner Abreu (RF), Greg Folgia (OF), Delvi Cid (OF)

Bo Greenwell is certainly the player that will command attention in the K-Tribe outfield. He's the kind of high energy player that always seems to put himself in the right place to win games, either on the offensive or defensive side of the plate. The 22-year old joined Kinston halfway through the season last year, came storming out of the gate, batting in the high .300's, before tapering off late in the season before finishing at .292 for the season. Overall in both Lake County and Kinston, he hit .301, with six homers, 57 RBI and 78 runs scored. Greenwell has plus speed, and stole 25 bases. The Indians brass believe this is an area that has room for improvement as he continues to learn the game at a high level. Greenwell's motor never stops running, and he's built himself into a solid defender that can play all three outfield positions. He'll start the season in left field, but don't be surprised if he ends up playing a little center and right as well as the year progresses. There's no doubt that this high IQ player will no doubt be the engine that drives this team.

To say that Abner Abreu had a down year in 2010 would likely be an understatement. Two years ago, he was on the verge of exploding in Lake County before a separated shoulder ended his season. While there's no doubt that Abreu struggled with his recovery which lead to his year-long struggles, more was expected of the then-top-ten prospect. He hit .252 for the season, with four homers and 58 RBI. It was obvious that the shoulder injury sapped a lot of his power, as less than a third of his hits went for extra bases. He continued to be overly aggressive at the plate, and struck out 130 times, with only 20 walks, which was a regression. There is definite concern with the Tribe brass about his learning curve on offense. With that said, Abreu is still a raw talent coming off of a serious injury. This is the year he has to show the brass that he's the real deal, or just another player to fill a slot for the time being on the minor league roster. He's still a young player at 21, but his time is now. When he's clicking, he has a natural, aggressive swing that can spray the ball in all directions, and when healthy, in a violent way. He's extremely strong, so power won't be an issue, and should continue to improve. He works hard and understands the game. Defensively, he solid. He has a cannon arm and deceptive speed that allow him to be an above average outfielder. It's hard to forget that it was Abreu's first full season in the outfield last year after the Tribe moved him from first base...and he'll only get better. I'm still excited about this kid, as he has the most offensive upside on the entire roster. It's entirely conceivable that he bursts out this year, and puts up numbers that make him a hot commodity again.

Tyler Holt comes to Kinston after being drafted in the tenth round of the draft out of Florida St. When you picture a baseball player, Tyler Holt is likely the player that you are picturing. Holt isn't a kid that's going to belt 30 homers or year, or even 20 for that matter, but he's certainly the kind of player that finds any way he can to get on base to allow the power guys to get their RBI. At Florida St., he was the clear leader of the team, and may have been the best lead-off hitter in the NCAA's during his last couple of seasons. What makes people take notice is his attitude once he takes the field. He plays with his emotions on his sleeve, and has that internal desire to not only win, but use every ounce of his energy to make it happen. In his first taste of major league baseball, Holt played 22 games at Lake County, skipping Mahoning Valley altogether. That shows you what they think of this kid, and he could progress through the system quickly, as he has that kind of makeup. In those 22 games, Holt had 20 hits, 10 of which went for extra bases. He had 15 walks, and struck out only 12 times. His OBP was a freakish .409, but that's just the kind of player that he is. If it takes getting hit to get to first, he'll do it...he's that kind of scrappy player. Defensively, he covers a lot of ground, and rarely makes bad plays. His only detraction is with regards to his throwing arm, which average at best. Still, if that's the only part of his game that he has to overcome, the Indians will take it. Look for Holt to lead this team, and make the players around him that much better.

Greg Foglia isn't a blue chip prospect by any stretch, and has struggled a bit offensively in his first two minor league seasons. His strength is clearly in the field, where he can play all three outfield positions well. In 164 career games in all three outfield positions, Foglia has made only four errors. He needs to hit better than the .230 he did last year to become a factor in the future of the Indians big league team though. If he continues to develop, he's got fourth outfielder written all over him because of his defensive ability.

In four seasons with the Indians organization, Delvi Cid has stolen 137 bases, including 71 last season. He's clearly the fastest player in the Tribe organization, and will have the green light to run from the second he steps onto the on-deck circle. Offensively, his game is a work-in-progress for sure. He strikes out way too much, and walks way to little, but at 21, still has time to develop into something more than a slap hitter. If he ever figures out how to improve his OBP, he immediately becomes a factor to move up to Cleveland. With that said, defensively, the kid is a better than average defender. His speed allows him to make a play on any ball hit in his general vicinity. He's the kind of player that can get out of position, but still make the play look easy because of that plus speed. Cid is currently on the DL, but look for him to come out running when he's healthy.

Final Thoughts

While this team isn't as stacked as it was last year, I do feel that it may be built better to win. With Akron and Columbus seemingly full of prospects, it wouldn't be a stretch to see most of this team together for much of the year. The starting rotation isn't as spectacular as the White/Hagadone/De La Cruz trio that started the year off in Kinston last year, but it's still one of the top in the organization with Pomeranz/T.J.'s/Soto/Cook. Soto and Cook will likely be here all season, with Pomeranz and McFarland as the only two pitchers clearly ready to move in the near future. The bullpen is solid, laced with starters from last season. The infield has good overall power, and the outfield of Abreu/Greenwell/Holt should be fun to watch. If this team stays together for any bulk of time, they'll win the Carolina league this year...that's the kind of team that it is.

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